Friday, October 31, 2014

Get It Together

Last week, we spotted a flute in the repair shop with a strange indentation in the tenon.  The culprit for this damage was the repetitive motion of placing the flute on a stand (peg) at an angle.  That made us wonder -- what about putting your flute together?  Is there a right way and wrong way for that? What kind of damage could happen if you are not assembling your flute correctly?  So, we went to the repair office to chat with our repair technician, Rachel Baker.

Rachel assured us that there is no one particular correct way to assemble a flute and that there are actually different ways. We asked about one we had come across recently -- the "barrel and end of footjoint" method, where you place one hand on the barrel and one on the bottom of the footjoint. This method prevents people from placing pressure on the mechanism.  However, Rachel finds this method of holding the flute and footjoint at "far ends" not to be the best, because she said it is more difficult to get the flute straight this way. She told us that there "should be no angles" when you are assembling the flute -- and angles can certainly happen with this particular method because your hands are very far apart.

So, Rachel has a method that she showed us, and she explained more as she demonstrated.  She holds the flute (centerjoint) essentially in the same manner that she would when playing, and then she rotates the flute down so that her palm is holding it.  She then holds the footjoint in a very natural manner with her thumb closing a key cup toward the middle of the footjoint.  She feels that it is easier to get the flute together correctly when your hands are closer to the connection point.  With this type of position, you have more control, as opposed to the method where your hands are at opposite ends of the flute and footjoint.

With Rachel's method, her hands do touch the mechanism -- so, we asked if that would damage the flute.  She assured us that she has "never broken a flute putting it together this way," and that the "pressure" on the mechanism is actually lighter than one would normally exert when playing the flute.  In her words, "it's definitely not a death grip."

After meeting with Rachel, we took back a few key pointers about assembling the flute: (1) hands should be closer to the connection point to allow for more control (2) position of hands is similar to playing position (3) it is okay to touch the mechanism, because you will not exert enough pressure to damage anything.  Finally, Rachel told us that the footjoint should slide onto the flute easily -- it should not be difficult. She shared, "If you are having a lot of trouble putting the flute together, then something else needs to be done..."

Hands at bottom of footjoint and barrel can create angles when you try to assemble flute.
Hands are very far apart this way, so it is difficult to get everything straight.
Rachel prefers to hold the footjoint this way.  It's okay to close a key cup.
She says it's okay even to put your thumb on the tubing, because there is a post underneath, and the pressure of your thumb is light.
Rachel holds the body in a position similar to a playing position.
Hand is much closer to connection point with Rachel's method.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Take a Stand

We all know how convenient it is to have instrument stands for our flutes and piccolos.  Whether you are practicing or performing, it's great to have a place to put your instrument to keep it standing securely.  However, if you are in a hurry, you may not be approaching the stand with your flute positioned correctly.  In fact, this angled approach may be something that happens regularly, and you may not even notice it.  However, this slight positioning slip could definitely damage the flute...

This week, we stopped by the repair office at Powell, and technician Rachel Baker showed us something quite interesting.  It was a flute with a curved line on the inside of the body tenon caused by an indentation on the outside. You will see it traced with a blue Sharpie marker in the photo below.  Oddly enough, the flute was sent to Rachel for regular maintenance, and the owner did not know about the indentation.  What had happened was that she had been putting her flute on a flute stand at a bit of an angle.  Since the flute was coming down on the peg at an angle, the outside ring on the top of the footjoint was pushing against the outside of the tenon.  The pressure exerted on the outside of the tenon, in turn, created an indentation that left a visible line on the inside.

So, although it may seem rudimentary to place your flute in a straight position on the stand, it could be something that is easy to overlook.  The photos below will help demonstrate what to do -- and what not to do!

Putting flute down on peg at an angle -- don't do this!
Putting flute straight down on peg -- do this!
Blue Sharpie mark shows the indentation.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Felt or Straubinger?

Left to right: Straubinger, hard pressed felt, soft woven felt

Many flutists will send their instruments off to the repair shop and learn they need to have their pads replaced.  At that point, the repair technician may ask, "Which would you prefer -- felt or Straubinger?"  Hmm...  So, how do you choose?  Well, we spoke with Powell's Repair Technician, Rachel Baker, to find out more about the pads and get her recommendations...

A quick review of the pads with Rachel helped us recall the difference in materials:

Felt pads - cardboard backing, pressed felt, skin (bladder skin covering)
Straubinger pads - plastic backing, microfiber, skin (bladder skin covering)

Rachel told us that the pads each have different characteristics based on their composition.  In terms of feel, the materials create a noticeable difference because the pads will hit the cups differently when you play.  The felt has more give and can handle extra upward pressure (exerted on the pad when you close the key cup), so she said they tend to be better for people with "heavier" hands.  The Straubinger pads have a crisper response than the felt, so someone with a lighter touch may prefer these.  The Straubinger pads also tend to have more stability because they are made from synthetic materials.  The natural materials in the felt pads fluctuate more with changes in atmospheric conditions, so, for instance, a flutist living in a very humid climate would probably not have as much luck with the felt pads because of the humidity.  In terms of sound, one might not realize, but there is a difference.  Rachel said that one pad is not better than the other -- it just all depends on the player's sound preferences. If you think about the physics behind sound production on the flute, as air travels through the instrument, there will be a difference in sound because of the difference in materials (felt or synthetic pads) closing the tone holes.  Sound discrepancies may be difficult to describe, but some players may note general color/quality differences such as a "brighter" or "darker" sound, depending on their choice of pads.

Signature flute with Straubinger pads in for a COA.

When speaking with customers, Rachel said that she asks several questions to determine what type of pad might be best for them.  First, she asks what type of pads are currently on the flute.  Many flutists may not know which type of pads they have, but that is okay.  Rachel will continue with more questions about the type of playing the flutist does, where they live, what type of sound they prefer, and any issues they may be having with the flute.  For instance, we noted in the previous paragraph that someone living in a humid climate might have problems with felt.  When it comes to type of playing, she asks, "Do you play outdoors or indoors?   Marching band?  Concert band or orchestra?" Then, she asks about their preferences and any issues, "Is the sound too bright?  Too dark?  Not projecting enough?"  These questions help her get a sense of the flutist's preferences and also help paint a picture of the performance environment the flute will have with each customer.

Friday, October 10, 2014

"Setting-Up" a Flute

A#, G#, and D are keys which people may prefer to have "set-up" differently.

Flute players often have preferences for the way their flute "feels" in terms of key heights, spring tension, and headjoint fit.  Flutes can be "set-up" by repair technicians to meet the preferences of their customers.  So, what exactly is involved in setting up a flute?  We spoke with flute finisher Lindsey McChord to find out...

Lindsey told us that "set-up" adjustments are easy to do on a finished flute.  Here at Powell, she sets-up flutes during the testing process.  She mentioned spring tension adjustments and key heights/angles as two main areas that are part of this process.  For instance, she said that if the player has a light touch, the flute can be set-up with lighter spring tension.  Contrarily, if the flutist has a heavy touch, the flute would be set-up with higher spring tension.  Lindsey tries to keep a slightly lighter tension on keys that are connected to other keys -- for instance, A# anf F#.  She said that if one of the connected keys already has a heavier spring tension, the A# and F# would feel even heavier, so she lightens them up a bit.  In terms of key heights, she mentioned that they can also be adjusted.  In some cases, it may be the key height and/or angle.  For example, when Lindsey purchased her Powell, she asked to have the C1 key raised just a bit.  Many people will also have preference for the G# key -- some people want it to be straight, and some people prefer more of an angle.  The A# key is also one that people might have preferences for in regard to the key's height and angle.  Players may have additional requests for key size, too.  In Lindsey's case, the D# key on her footjoint was a stretch for her, so she asked to have the key made slightly larger.

Finally, headjoint fit is a large part of the set-up process.  Some people like a looser fit, and some people prefer a fit that is tighter.  When it comes to headjoint fit, there is no gauge.  It is simply a matter of feel.  Both Lindsey and Rebecca Eckles, Director of Quality and Service, prefer to have the headjoint fitting smoothly and securely, so that the body will not drop off should someone grab the flute by the headjoint (which, by the way, you really don't want to happen!).  Lindsey shared that the headjoint fit is certainly subjective, but since flutists tune with the headjoint (pushing it in and pulling it out constantly), the fit is definitely an important part of the set-up process.

Yellow arrow points to C1, which people may have set-up differently.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Trying New Crowns

Silver, 10k, 14k, and 19.5k crowns
Recently, we've had several inquiries from flutists wanting to try different crowns.  Even though it is a very small part of the flute, the crown can make a big difference -- as you might remember from our "Changing the Crown" post on Flute Builder. 

So, if you are interested in trying a different crown, you may be wondering what options you have...  Can you put a gold crown on a silver headjoint?  A silver crown on a gold headjoint?  Gold or silver crowns on Aurumite headjoints?  Well, after speaking with Powell's Director of Quality and Service, Rebecca Eckles, we found out that essentially any metal-to-metal option would work, because the crowns are all the same size and can fit any headjoint.  But, this is only with metal.

If you have a wooden headjoint, you would not be able to switch out its crown for an all metal one.  Also, you would not be able to put a wooden crown on a metal headjoint.  The reason for this is because wooden crowns are larger in size that metal crowns, so the two are not interchangeable. 

If you are interested in trying a new crown, try a few different ones.  Here are Powell, we have silver, 10k, 14k, and 19.5k crowns.  You can order one directly from the Powell VQP Shop at

Without crowns in this picture, you can see the size difference between metal and wooden headjoints.